This article was updated at 10:10 p.m.
Can “King Kong” conquer Japan? The film opens Saturday on nearly 800 screens — not quite the local record, but close enough. Distributor UIP is aiming at the ¥10 billion ($84 million) box office mark, which no film has yet crossed this year.
Opening day B.O. numbers for other Asian countries were uniformly strong.
In Japan, there have been no press screenings of the completed film, usually essential for getting the word out in the release-crowded, media-saturated country, but “King Kong” publicist Yutaka Soga said that doesn’t matter.
“Everyone is the country knows who King Kong is,” he said. “With most Hollywood films, we need press screenings to introduce the story and characters to the media and public — that’s not the case with King Kong.”
Both the 1933 original and the 1976 remake are well known in Japan, while older fans fondly remember “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” the biggest ticket seller in the 27-film Godzilla series.
That 1962 Ishiro Honda film, with effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, featured the Big G and King Kong — an actor in an ape suit — facing off in a climactic battle at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Contrary to urban legend, Toho did not film two endings — one with Godzilla as the victor for the local market, and one with King Kong as the winner for U.S. export.
Instead the contest ended in a draw, with Kong swimming homeward and Godzilla heard roaring offscreen — and later emerging from the ocean in the next installment. Toho retired its most famous character after “Godzilla: Final Wars,” the 2004 Ryuhei Kitamura film made to commemorate the series’ 50th anniversary.
Although 10 of Godzilla’s old opponents appeared for a rematch, Kong was not among them. The departure of Godzilla, however, left a gaping hole in the local monster movie niche — one no Japanese film will be filling this Christmas.
Instead, Kong’s most formidable Japanese rival may well be “Yamato,” Junya Sato’s epic about the Japanese battleship that went down, guns blazing, in a ferocious firefight with U.S. warplanes in April 1945.
Although results of the B.O. battle aren’t in yet, the odds are strong that, this time, Kong will swim away a winner.
‘Kong’ breaks Asian records
UIP topper Andrew Cripps told CineAsia delegates Thursday in Beijing that opening day results for “King Kong” were stellar.
In Malaysia, pic earned one million ringgit ($252,000) for the biggest opening day of all time in that country.
“Kong” scored UIP’s biggest ever opening day in Thailand as well with $285,000.
Hong Kong auds shelled out $216,000 for the Peter Jackson-helmed pic, which also earned $245,000 in Singapore, repping the biggest Wednesday ever in that country.
Patrick Frater in Hong Kong contributed to this story.